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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Golden rule and platinum promises

law & gospel

God's law, embodied in the Ten Commandments, is written on our hearts and interpreted by our conscience, accusing or excusing us (Romans 2:15).

Gospel is the good news of God's rescue work through Jesus Christ. Law is not just rules: It is a demand. Gospel is not just promises: It is a gift. For God gives what God demands. God's twofold work in humans is to terrify through the law and, through the gospel, to justify the terrified (Apology of the Ausburg Confession, Article XII).

Terror "happens" when hearing a scary medical diagnosis, receiving a pink slip from the company, seeing headlights coming directly at you, or feeling condemned when you hear a sermon. When terror happens, law happens. Law brings an encounter with evil, an experience of sin done to us or by us. The encounter with law shows us we are sinners: broken and bound people who cannot free ourselves. Sins are symptoms. It takes the gospel to cure the disease.

Gospel is God's power and promise to rescue us (Romans 1:16-17). Like law, good news "happens" when hearing a sermon, reading the Bible or listening to a friend's witness. The gospel produces an encounter with Christ and an experience of the Spirit. When gospel happens, faith happens (Romans 10:8-13; Augsburg Confession, Article V). Then we receive a "benefits package": comfort for our terror, repair of our brokenness, freedom from our bondage and forgiveness for our misdeeds.

After the gospel has done its justifying work, setting us right with God, the law comes back into play. Although the law shows us our unrighteousness, it also reveals God's will for human life, protecting us from our neighbors, protecting our neighbors from us and guiding us into acts of love for justice and peace.


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